Team USA takeaways: Anthony Edwards, Anthony Davis lead Americans to 86-72 win over Canada

The last time Team USA stepped on the court in a major tournament, it lost a 127-118 thriller against Canada for the bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup. That loss compelled many of the best players in the world, including LeBron James and Stephen Curry, to suit up for Team USA in the 2024 Olympics. Fittingly, their journey to gold began on Wednesday with an exhibition against, you guessed it, Canada.

This time, the result was different. Despite facing a Canadian team at full strength with Jamal Murray joining Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt, Team USA prevailed in an 86-72 victory. It was a balanced American effort as no one wearing red, white and blue scored more than 13 points. In a game against the opponent most expect to give Team USA its fiercest challenge in the actual tournament in Paris, the star-studded American favorites controlled the final three quarters and wound up winning comfortably. Here are the biggest takeaways from Team USA’s double-digit win.

Anthony Edwards called himself the No. 1 option, and he might be right

Last summer, as Team USA prepared to play in the World Cup, Steve Kerr told Anthony Edwards that he planned to bring him off of the bench. This plan sat poorly with Edwards. “He said Dwyane Wade came off the bench when Kobe played,” Edwards explained. “I was like, ‘All right, we don’t have a Kobe.’ ” By the time the tournament started, Edwards hadn’t just earned a starting role. He was the best player on the team.

A similar story might be playing out here as Team USA prepares for the Olympics. Edwards, again, came off of the bench in the Canada game. He has made it clear that he has loftier ambitions for himself even on this more talented roster. “I’m still the No. 1 option,” Edwards said on Sunday. Sure enough, Edwards was Team USA’s leading scorer against Canada on Wednesday with 13 points. Team USA trailed 11-1 in the early going with Devin Booker in at point guard. The energy of the game shifted irrevocably the moment Kerr inserted Edwards. His scoring and defense helped Team USA quickly regain control of the game.

In reality, there won’t be a No. 1 option on this team. This isn’t the 2020 roster, which clearly belonged to Kevin Durant because there were no other players of his stature available. This Team USA vintage has four MVPs in James, Curry, Durant and Joel Embiid. If healthy, they might all start. That leaves one starting slot. Booker spent most of last season as the presumed shooting guard within that group. Jrue Holiday started next to Booker in this game, and his role-player skills might make more sense alongside those MVPs. But every time Kerr tries to turn Edwards into a role player, he winds up creating an even more dangerous star. Even if Holiday makes more sense stylistically in the starting five, Edwards might just be too talented to deny.

Is Joel Embiid the right center for this team?

The recruitment of Embiid was, somehow, the highest-profile story relating to a roster spot in a tournament that includes LeBron James’ first trip to the Olympics in over a decade. Jaren Jackson Jr. struggled mightily in the World Cup last summer, leading USA Basketball to aggressively pursue Embiid, a naturalized American citizen (teams are allowed one each), as a response to the notion that America no longer produces enough big men. France also wanted him badly, and when it missed out, it was so bitter that it leaked a letter Embiid allegedly wrote to French President Emmanuel Macron asking for citizenship so he could play for them.

For all of that hype, Embiid’s debut as Team USA’s starting center was somewhat underwhelming. Embiid made two field goals and one free throw in 12 minutes. He was one of only three Americans with a negative point-differential, and he fouled out in only the third quarter. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis was stellar with 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Team USA was +15 with Davis playing center.

Drawing serious conclusions after one game probably isn’t fair. There will be matchups in which Embiid’s power and size make him indispensable. There are countries in this field that Embiid should score against at will, and more importantly, he is by far Team USA’s best answer to Nikola Jokic, who has vexed both Davis and Bam Adebayo in the NBA playoffs lately. As Team USA shares a group with Serbia, the Jokic matchup is paramount. Team USA might need to beat Jokic twice.

But there are also going to be matchups like this one in which Davis, who is much lighter on his feet, might make more sense. He can bother Canada’s star guards more than Embiid can, and when he has strong point-of-attack defenders in front of him, he’s a more fearsome rim-protector as well. Embiid probably gets the nod as the starter throughout the tournament just because of politics. Don’t be surprised if Davis winds up closing more games than Embiid when matchups call for it.

Team USA won doing the little things

On paper, this is the most talented American roster since at least 2012. Nobody who was healthy enough to play said no to Kerr and Grant Hill as they built the team. That obviously makes Team USA heavy favorites, but if there was a weakness to be found here, it was in the stature of the players involved here. Many of the best American players in the world today are elder statesmen. James, Curry and Durant are old; Embiid is no spring chicken either. These are offense-first players who are too important to do the little things consistently on their NBA teams. If Team USA loses in this tournament, the likeliest reason why would be fit issues. This group is likelier to beat itself than to get beaten by an opponent.

But those fears were mostly allayed on Wednesday. It turns out, any NBA superstar is probably capable of defending and screening and passing at a high level when they’re surrounded by similarly gifted players and spending limited time on the court. Team USA won this game with defense. Canada shot only 33.8% from the floor against the relentless American pressure. Team USA assisted on 25 of its 37 field goals. That’s an assist rate of 67.6%, which would have ranked second among all NBA teams last season.

This roster may be full of stars, but it isn’t full of egos. Team USA has only practiced for four days, but it is already playing the right brand of selfless basketball. With almost three weeks left before the Olympics begin, Team USA still has plenty of time to build on Wednesday’s success and prepare for its march towards gold in Paris.

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